Google Glass launches new age of personal computing

Desktops, laptops and even tablets will soon be passe; Google Glass is paving the way toward wearable and then body-based systems

When one talks of computers today, he or she could be referring to a laptop, a desktop or maybe even a smartphone.

Sergey Brin, CEO and co-founder of Google, wears Google Glasses during a product demonstration at the Google I/O 2012 conference last month. (Image: Stephen Lam / Reuters)

However, if Google's latest plan stays on track, the definition of a computer could broaden significantly.

At its Google I/O developers conference in San Francisco, the company threw a lot of effort behind the unveiling of a prototype of its so-called Google Glass computerized eyeglasses.

The Android-powered eyeglasses are equipped with a processor, memory, camera, GPS sensors and a display screen.

Google co-founder and CEO Sergey Brin said the Google Glass development effort is all about "doing brand new risky technological things that are really about making science fiction real."

In that world of science fiction, he said, computers won't always look like what we now expect from the term. The next generation of computers won't necessarily sit on one's desk or lap or in one's hand. The devices may not have a have a monitor and/or keyboard.

Someday - probably in the near future - computers will be worn, whether incorporated into glasses, or in a piece of jewelry such as a bracelet or something else, analysts say.

"Google Glass changes the way we will look at computers," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "It isn't just research, it's a workable prototype."

"Glass serves to stretch the technology ecosystem to even greater lengths, Moorhead said. "I believe that in five years we will see many different form factors and brands of wearable computers. We will have computers embedded in our glasses of course, but also in our jewelry and watches."

Moorhead noted that the U.S. military, especially the Special Forces units, already use wearable computers to for communications and GPS tasks. That technology hasn't yet reached consumer or business users, he added.

Google's research efforts could hasten the mainstream use of the technologies.

"As we see real devices in use that we previously saw only in movies and books, it will expand the possibilities even further," said Moorhead. "We can go beyond the glasses and visualize computers in our jewelry, in our watches and even inside our bodies."

Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT, said such new computing form factors are an extension of the current mobile trend, taking GPS-enabled smartphones, growing compute power and multiple new communications capabilities to the next level.

"It's the ever smaller and ever more powerful mobile technologies," he added. "It's about the things we used to see and think about in relation to sci-fi novels or Star Trek. The idea of highly mobile and highly powerful computers is extremely intriguing."

King said he expects there will be great demand for what he calls "mobile computing lifestyle choices" in a few years.

"It would not surprise me if we see a lot of this in, say, five years," he noted. "As the technology becomes more sophisticated and cheaper, it becomes something everybody can afford."

"Some years ago, a smartphone like the Blackberry was considered something that only business professionals needed. It doesn't seem farfetched to think we could see Google Glass widely adopted in five years," King added.

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, pointed out that Google Glass or other wearable computers could be very useful in many workplaces -- not just the next big thing to help users look cool or geeky.

"They could be used regularly for things like taking inventory in warehouses, and for tasks on factory floors and other places where folks need to use computers and their hands at the same time," Enderle said.

At the Google I/O conference, the company said it is offering prototype versions of Google Glass, dubbed the Google Glass Explorer Edition, to developers for $1,500. Brin said he expects the glasses to be generally available in 2014 -- at a lower price.

"If the developer community can come up with interesting solutions, the sky's the limit," said King.

Enderle said that wearable computers could be a big step toward a new generation of compute form factors that can be embedded inside the human body.

Putting aside visions of Star Trek's Borg initiative, Moorhead and Enderle agreed that wearable computers are a bridge to the first such computer implants.

"It's an interim step toward imbedding computers into people and creating some kind of biomechanical interface that bypasses the eyes," Enderle said, adding that he believes that computer generation is some 25 to 50 years away.

"The change we are working toward ... is one of the big changes we will see in computing this century. It will redefine personal computing by the time it has fully matured," he added.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Read more about emerging technologies in Computerworld's Emerging Technologies Topic Center.

This story, "Google Glass launches new age of personal computing" was originally published by Computerworld.

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